this is "nightline." >> tonight, danger on the tracks. they were a cute young couple like any other, drawn by the risk and romance of the rails, thinking it was the perfect setting for a carefree photo shoot. but then everything changed in an instant. why are these accidents on the rise? they were born identical twin brothers. now they're far from identical. >> being a girl just felt right. it felt like that's what i was supposed to be. >> a transgender teen opens up about becoming nicole and we're there as she prepares for life-changing surgery so she can finally match the way she feels.
and don't try this at home. real. >> a professional sword stomach-turning tricks of the trade. going to dangerous extremes to draw in crowds. but first the "nightline 5." >> it takes a lot of work to run this business. but i really love it. i'm on the move all day long. sometimes i just don't eat the way i should. so i drink boost to get the nutrition that i'm missing. >> boost complete nutritional drink has 26 essential vitamins and minerals including calcium and vitamin d to support strong bones and 10 grams of protein all with a great taste. >> i don't plan on slowing down any time soon.
>> number one in just 60 good evening. joust how far would you go for a flawless photo? as people go to dangerous extremes to get a picture-perfect snapshot, they often ignore the risks. accidents becoming more frequent, sometimes deadly. tonight, one mother shares her haunting cautionary tale with abc's jim avila. >> reporter: it's an american scene. just a couple of happy kids celebrating young love in the country. two 16-year-olds dancing and jumping on empty railroad tracks in rural maryland. >> they went there that day to do the photography project. >> reporter: a class project to take inspirational photos. these filled with metaphors of youth. just starting out on the pathway yet to come. john john is the boy next door. his girlfriend. >> he loved a thrill.
definitely loved adventure. he loved to laugh, he loved to be a little bit scared. >> reporter: right up until an amtrak train travels upwards of 70 miles per hour surprised john john, his girlfriend, and her twin sister, the photographer. the wind from the speeding locomotive pushing the girls back. but the cold, hard steel of the 200-ton powerhouse crushing the boy before he could jump to safety. >> everything changed. everything changed. >> 24 hours ago we learned an amtrak train hit and killed a high school student. >> how is it the two girls were able to survive and john was not? >> they were standing to the side of the tracks. and john was standing on the tracks. balancing on the beams. and they just escaped. i mean, it was almost a triple tragedy. >> so they saw it, and it was just --
they almost got sucked in. that's how close they were. >> but your son never saw it? >> he didn't see it till the last minute. and he couldn't get out of the way in time. >> reporter: christine got the news from john john's screaming girlfriend and her life stopped. >> this is a picture of john. he was riding on a tractor that day. >> reporter: she sleeps in his room now because it smells like him. >> it's the only room i want to be in. i feel him with me. >> reporter: and she looks at those pictures. so him, and so tragic. >> the pictures that they took the moments before my son died are beautiful. he's at peace and he's happy. you could see it's just them doing a sweet project together. nobody was horsing around, nobody was fooling around. and it's just -- a horrible, horrible accident. >> reporter: these teens are not the only ones allured by the tracks.
hard to believe but train track photography has become a thing. a dangerous trend. people are doing it across the country. from the family that took this viral picture of mom being rescued by husband batman and their boy wonder robin on a abandoned tracks in wisconsin. >> knowing what we know now, that it was illegal, we wouldn't -- i don't think we would do it again. >> reporter: no tragic ending here but the internet did blow up in scorn for what critics called an unnecessary risk. then there's the celebrity fitness expert from bravo, greg plip, who died during a photo shoot. he had posted videos of workouts on the tracks before. even professionals can get hurt. this hollywood movie went on location in rural georgia for a dramatic opening sequence for the film "midnight rider." leading to real-life terror on
watch as this train unexpectedly swept across the bridge leaving little room for the actors to escape, killing one camera assistant left behind. >> i just kept saying over and over, lord help us. >> reporter: it was revealed later they were filming without a permit. the director sentenced to two years in jail for involuntary manslaughter. >> sarah was the first person i saw. she was lying on the side of the tracks, dead. >> reporter: so why is this happening? walking on the railroad track deaths are up nearly 10% already this year. nearly 500 last year alone. many of them taking selfies or traditional camera shots on the rails. yesterday in florida, photographer kelly cortes took this video of a shoot she conducted on the tracks. a family who wanted a keepsake picture. >> to allow us to have something very unique. >> reporter: kelly says her shoots are safe. she stays near an intersection
of road and track for an easier escape and puts a penny on the track, believing it will vibrate long before a train gets near her. >> you have be smart, be diligence. speed. it's an optical illusion. if it's a tie you're going to lose. >> reporter: railroad engineers we rode with argue there is no safe way to take rail pics. the roar of the engine follows the train. the sound surprisingly quiet as it speeds toward you. and the tracks are narrower than the train itself, making it hard to judge safe clearance. a fully loaded freight train weighs as much as 6,500 tons. that's like 2,500 african elephants running at you. to stop. from emergency brake to full stop. >> once the engineer decides to put the train in emergency and he's seen you, it's too late.
>> reporter: charles samuels, an engineer on norfolk southern in virginia, says he sees people on the tracks every day. it haunts him. gives him what he calls railroad dreams. >> they don't know how it's going to affect me, you know, if i kill them or hurt them. they're not worried about that. they're worried about their shot. >> reporter: "operation lifesaver lifesaver" works with railroads including union pacific to release public service announcements, trying to slow down the rail photo trend. >> what is he thinking? >> see tracks, think train. >> the simple truth is, people are not able to get out of the way in time. we tell people a very simple message, stay off the tracks. it's illegal, it's dangerous, it can be deadly. >> reporter: for student photographer jeremy sprites, his rail photo days are over. he was on the tracks just a few yards away the day john john was hit by this train. the pictures taken here don't
look so romantic anymore. >> i definitely don't think his passing was worth taking pictures on a train track. you never expect it to happen. >> reporter: which brings us back to john john's room in rural maryland where his mother wishes she had said no on that summer day when her son and friends had the innocent idea to take some pictures on the railroad tracks. >> just out of the blue. just -- your life stops. >> everything changed. everything is broken and it can't be fixed. he's never coming home again. >> reporter: that photogenic metaphor of the pathway ahead too often just a dead end. for "nightline" i'm jim avila in boyds, maryland. next, we're with a transgender teen on the journey to becoming nicole. her parents stumbling into activism in support of their child. plus, inside a school for sword swallowing. what performers are willing to
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tt4watv# 1d " gzt& :w( tt4watv# 1d " hnt& *yd tt4watv# 1d " iztq @0< tt4watv# 1d " jntq r@\ tt4watv# 1d " lzt& j- you can call her a pioneer or just a regular teenager. the girl you're about to meet was born with an identical twin brother. in you she's part of a young generation of transgender activists say they're proud of and sure of who they are days before a life-changing surgery that will transform her body. abc's deborah roberts is there. >> reporter: meet 18-year-old nicole and jonas mains.
>> fit snaps i'm going to literally die laughing. >> reporter: they may not look like it but they're actually identical twins. >> i'll go to say something and he'll say it right before i say it. >> reporter: they may share the same genes but they're different. nicole is transgender. >> i knew that i was trans when i was like 3. i just knew in my head and in my heart that i was supposed to be a girl. >> reporter: and she's recently made the decision to undergo sex reassignment surgery. >> i feel like it's going to give me almost a sense of closing that i feel like i've needed for a long time. >> reporter: a long time indeed. like her brother, nicole was born a boy. his name wyatt. >> i knew i identified as a girl. i was like, i got this. but my body didn't match it. >> so i don't understand how you know that you should be something different. like you're little, you're 3. >> i have no idea. it's just one of those things that you know. >> reporter: for her parents,
>> i knew that nicole was different. i didn't know what it was. i didn't know she was transgender at 3. i just knew she wasn't like the other twin. she'd play all the girl roles. she always wanted to dress as a girl character. >> reporter: wayne struggled with letting go of one of his sons. >> when the twins were born i had these dreams of football, basketball, everything we thought about for me was the boys. >> reporter: he tried ignoring wyatt's desire to be different. >> man, i didn't want to think about it. when we let her go out in a dress and this kid beamed and was happier -- then i started to think about it. like, man. i got to change who i am. i had to dig deep into my soul afraid of? >> reporter: they supported wyatt having long hair and wearing girls' clothing. >> i would go up to somebody in first grade and say, i'm wyatt and i'm a boy who wants to be a girl. >> you would say that to kids in first grade?
>> yeah, i didn't think it was anything wrong, it was the thing that came with my introduction. >> at what point did you decide you wanted another name? >> probably fourth grade. it wasn't a name for girls so i needed a new one. i started looking at tv characters i idoled, tv characters i felt described me, i finally decided nicole. >> any particular character? >> yes, there was this character on "zee wee 101." one of her classmates' names was nicole. she was quirky, fun. i was like, oh, she's a lot like me. >> you're good. >> you too. >> i'm a nicole. >> reporter: by age 8, wyatt was no longer. by middle school nicole was beginning to feel ostracized. >> kids would say there was something wrong with me. i'd come home crying, there's something wrong with me. they'd say, don't listen to them, be true to yourself, this is who you are, just be true to you. >> reporter: jonas was fiercely supportive of his sister during this time.
me to look after her, protect her, do what you have to do. that was a huge responsibility that i had to carry around for a lot of years. >> reporter: then came the bathroom issue. for years nicole had used the girls' restroom. until one of her classmates' grandfather complained to school officials. the mains family filed and won a discrimination lawsuit against their school district, scoring a big victory for trans kids. the case changing state law. >> i've never been shy about telling the world who i am. >> reporter: since the lawsuit, nicole has been in the spotlight. her family now unlikely activists and the subject of a new book "becoming nicole." it's been a pivotal year for the transgender movement thanks in part to caitlyn jenner's story. her speech at the espy awards striking a chord with nicole. >> for the thousands of kids out there, coming to terms with being true to who they are, they
>> i'm like, absolutely. trans youth should not have to take it. they should be able to go to school. >> reporter: nicole is part of a new generation of out and proud trans kids. like jazz jennings, star of the tlc show "i am jazz." despite increasing social acceptance, being transgender isn't without controversy, especially when it comes to teens undergoing the life-altering sex reassignment surgery. >> you're only 17. teenagers change their minds a lot. are you sure you're ready to make such a commitment? >> absolutely. this has always been what i needed. this has always been, like i said, my light at the end of the tunnel. >> how long have you been thinking about this moment? >> well, i was asking my dad. i would ask him when i was 4. i'd come up to him in tears, dad, when do i get to get rid of my penis? what's wrong with me? >> a lot of trans people choose not to have surgery.
live their lives looking either like a man or a woman. why is it so important to you to do the surgery? >> this is the final piece of the puzzle. my body is finally going to match what's happening in my head and heart. >> serious surgery. >> yeah. i worry. i don't want her to have to do this. it wasn't my choice to have a transgender child. i'd rather she was already female. but i'll do what i have to do help my kid be who they need to be. >> reporter: we were with the family on surgery day. her puzzle, as she calls it, now complete. >> everything went really well. it didn't take as long as we thought. it's amazing weight off of our shoulders. >> reporter: weeks later, back at the family home in maine, nicole is prepping for another big transition. >> today is all about getting ready for college. it's all about packing up the last of my stuff. my room's a mess because i've been tearing it apart. >> reporter: for the first time the twins will be on their own. >> i'm ready to be sort of away from you.
that sounded really bad. i think it's just going to be a really good experience to be able to have that space and be able to, yeah, have our own friends. >> just call me. >> i will. >> reporter: these days the most pressing thing on nicole's mind? passing midterms. >> i'm happy. i like it. i got my hair done today, i got my makeup on. i'm happy. i'm nicole. i'm incredibly happy. >> reporter: for "nightline," i'm deborah roberts in maine. up next, an expert sword swallower explains why high entertainment value comes with high risk at a popular stunt show. huh, fifteen minutes could save you fifteen percent or more on car insurance. yeah, everybody knows that. well, did you know that playing cards with kenny rogers gets old pretty fast? you got to know when to hold'em. know when to fold 'em.
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finally, a little something night. while it involves fire in your face, swords down the throat -- wait, it's way more popular than i just made it sound. brooklyn's coney island is full of attractions not for the faint of heart. but there's one act in the circus sideshow that tops them all. ray valence is the resident sword swallower. it's the ultimate "don't try this at home." >> down the hatch! without a scratch. >> reporter: during the course of a typical show day, ray will swallow a sword about 25 times. >> someone who says that i'm risking my health swallowing swords would be absolutely right. because i am doing that every single time i swallow a sword. i do it so that i can entertain
i have to defy death in the process, so be it. >> reporter: believe it or not more people are willing to take that risk. shows like "american horror story freak show" have put the act back in the spotlight. soaped performers and newcomers alike flock to the coney island sideshow school to learn the hottest acts. to them the $1,000 tuition fee is well worth it to pick up the secrets of the trade from the professor, adam reelman. >> what you're about to see, ladies and gentlemen, is the single most does thing in a circus sideshow, known as sword swallowing. there's been a few major injuries. every so often you'll hear of sword swallowers ripping their insides out. >> reporter: for the students it's part of the draw. >> you have to be in control of something dangerous. it looks fantastic. >> you want to be nice and relaxed. >> reporter: they start slow with bent coat hangers. when they master that they charge on to the heavy artillery.
internal bleeding, a punctured esophagus, perforated lungs, and death can all happen if something goes awry. but adam says they can get there with a little practice and a lot of determination. to each his own. thanks for watching abc news. tune into "good morning america" tomorrow. as always we're online 24/7 on our "nightline" facebook page and abcnews.com. >> announcer: the following is a paid presentation for the nutribullet rx, nature's prescription nutrition extractor, brought to you by nutribullet llc. >> my stomach issues literally went away. >> my acne has cleared up. >> my hot flashes have subsided.